First off, alcohol withdrawal is no joke and shouldn’t be confused with a hangover. Withdrawal is beyond the hangover stage and triggers very real physiological changes in your body that are often seen in people who have been drinking heavily over a long period of time. Stopping cold for these types of heavy users can be fatal so it’s extremely important to liaise with your doctor when you’re ready to change your life. You won’t want to go through withdrawal more than once and it will be the best decision you ever make.

The Shitty Part – Symptoms

I’m not going to wrap this in cotton wool for you, it can be fucking rough. I’ve added approximate periods of times to each to show how long they can last. Of course, it’s different for everybody so take the ranges with a pinch of salt.

 

  • Extreme tiredness (0-4 weeks)
  • Headaches and ‘brain fog’ (0-4 days)
  • Nausea and sickness (0-4 days)
  • Insomnia and/or nightmares (0-2 weeks)
  • Depression (0-3 weeks)
  • Anxiety (0-2 weeks, longer in extreme cases)
  • Seizures (in extreme cases, always consult your doctor)
As you can imagine, the first two days are the hardest as your body is trying its hardest to get rid of all the acetaldehyde and other toxins from your body. Also, remember that alcohol has a shit load of sugar in it so you’ll go through a blend of alcohol/sugar withdrawal at the same time.

 

How to Minimise Symptoms

As with anything physiological, you have a certain degree of control over it. Here are some tips to minimise some of the effects:

 

    • Drink plenty of water – you’ve dehydrated your body for too long with alcohol so flushing out the toxins with a high intake of water will be important

 

    • Take as many naps as your body will allow – alcohol really messes with your deep REM sleep and although you can’t recoup lost sleep, you can do your best to allow your brain to recover through sleep.

 

    • Use breathing exercises to change your physiology – when you’re feeling nauseous or finding it hard to sleep, take a couple of minutes to do some 4-7-8 breathing or the Wim Hof Method.

 

    • Avoid sugar and coffee – mainly because you don’t want to exacerbate any of the already present symptoms. Try to get used to healthy foods that help with the detoxification (vegetables are your friend!).

 

  • Pick up a new activity – not just to distract yourself, but to actually start to enjoy activities that don’t involve alcohol! Things like running, painting, reading, rock climbing, playing a musical instrument, learning a language, helping the homeless, gardening, cooking, dancing, gaming, catching up with loved ones… The list goes on.

 

A must-read for those looking to get sober
 

The Positive Part – Alcohol Recovery Timeline

Now the good bit, when you will start feeling better! Again, it’s different for everyone but there are some pretty clear milestones.

 

Up to 48 hours – The hangover

Depending on how hard you hit it, this is when the debt collector comes to collect payment for all the ‘fun’ you had and there’s a lot of interest added on. You’ll feel sick, tired, unmotivated, hungry for sweet things that will make you feel even sicker and there’s a very high chance you’ll also feel depressed and anxious. Don’t worry too much, you’ve just gotta ride through and wait it out. It will pick up soon once you leave the fog.

 

I recommend taking a photo of yourself at this point in time so you can see the visible improvements!

 

Day 2 – 5

Your hangover effects will dim but you’ll still have:
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Severe tiredness/fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Low motivation.

Things will improve from here.

Day 6 & 7

The alcohol in your system will have gone by now (although traces will still be in your hair!) and generally this is where things can slowly start to improve. Your body will likely be expecting a new intake of alcohol by this point as it’s probably now the weekend!

 

Day 7 – 14

Slowly but surely, the script flips and instead of noticing how shitty you feel you’ll start to feel and notice some benefits:
  • Increased energy
  • Better sleeps and possibly remembering dreams you’ve had (meaning you’ve had more deep REM sleep)
  • Less anxiety and more mental clarity
  • More resilient to life’s stresses
  • A more positive outlook on life (symptoms of depression start to alleviate)
  • Less puffy/red face

 

Day 14 – 28

Each day within this period you’ll feel very gradual improvements and you should remember that your brain still needs to heal. Significant improvements to your mood, your sleep and your motivation levels will be noticed. Picking up new hobbies and ways to exercise will be important here as you start to rewire the reward  part of your brain. You’re used to synthetic dopamine rewards through alcohol so you’ll need to work on achieving this naturally from now on. Give yourself some time and don’t be hard on yourself throughout this time period.

1 – 6 Months

This is a time to thoroughly enjoy as you will notice a huge difference physically. Refer back to the photo you took within the hangover phase and the vast difference should confirm your decision to never drink again.

6 Months and beyond

At this point in time, you can start enjoying life naturally again. Even heavy users will experience a newfound sense of life at this point.